Pursuing an Alimony Award in Maryland When Your Spouse’s Income Fluctuates Significantly Year-to-Year

Many people in this state make their living working jobs in which all (or most) of their earnings come from commission payments. These include insurance agents, financial advisors, brokers, real estate agents, and sales representatives. The overall annual incomes of workers paid on commission — much like the incomes of self-employed people — can fluctuate substantially and can be very challenging to prove when you’re going through a divorce and needing to seek an award of alimony. When you’re facing serious hurdles regarding proving your spouse’s income, an experienced Maryland alimony lawyer can provide essential aid.

Cases where a payor spouse is paid entirely (or predominantly) on commission — or is self-employed — are ones where figuring out that spouse’s actual “income” figure can be extraordinarily difficult.

L.Z.P. was one of those people facing these complexities in her Anne Arundel County divorce case. She earned a fixed salary while her husband was paid 100% on commission.

In contrast to the methodology for assessing a parent’s child support obligation, Maryland law does not have a “calculator” for computing a spouse’s alimony obligation. Maryland courts have specifically stated that “the decision to award alimony is not subject to a formulaic resolution.”

When making a determination about alimony, Maryland law (Family Law Section 11-106) allows a judge to consider a variety of factors, including the length of the marriage, the standard of living the pair enjoyed during their marriage, each spouse’s age and overall mental/physical health, the receiving spouse’s prospects for becomes self-supporting, and each spouse’s income (among other things.)

Ultimately, whether or not to award alimony — and, if so, how much — generally is within the discretion of the trial court judge, and once the court issues a ruling, it typically won’t be overturned on appeal unless the alimony ruling was unreasonable.

An Income Downturn of Nearly 30%

In the Anne Arundel case, the wife worked as a radiation therapist and made an annual salary of just over $101,000. The husband worked as a sales engineer for a commercial HVAC entity and his overall earnings fluctuated from year to year. From 2017-2019, his annual income ranged from $492,000-$521,000. In 2020-2021, it ranged between $358,000 and $369,000.

The trial court looked at the husband’s earnings in each year from 2017-2021 and constructed an average used to determine his annual income to calculate child support and alimony. This meant that, rather than finding the husband’s income to be $30,000-31,000 per month, the court found his monthly income to be closer to $37,500 per month.

The judge’s averaging method was allowable, according to the appeals court. The method properly accounted for the statutory factors listed in Section 11-106 and did not represent an abuse of discretion.

What this case teaches is that alimony disputes are intensely fact-driven and trial judges have broad latitude in making judgments regarding alimony. When it comes time to seek an alimony award, you need to ensure that your presentation before the trial court is as strong as possible and provides the judge with all the facts. The skillful Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC have the know-how and abilities to help you do exactly that. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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